written by: SAH
It was late. I was just going to find a short article to read before bed. Instead, within the first few pages of the July/August Atlantic Monthly, I found an ad for Prudential. They wanted readers to scan the ad with their smartphones. The guise was a survey, but the result would no doubt have been more advertising. I never made it that far. I never made it past the question.
"Would you rather give advice to your younger self or get advice from your older self? Would you choose to go back 20 years, knowing what you know now? Or go forward in time, to bring back hard-earned wisdom?"
The questions are classic. The metal exercise is not unique. But for some reason it stuck. It's a question aimed specifically at the middle-aged. Younger than thirty and it becomes almost trivial. Over sixty and it's arguably too late.
I couldn't make a snap decision. There was too much to consider. My choices are 17 and 57. Young enough to significantly impact my adulthood. Old enough to prepare myself for some of what lies ahead.
Thing is, 17 wasn't a great age. So would I tell myself the truth? I'm not sure I would have been able to handle the tale of these past twenty years. And what would my younger self do with this information? Would I be inspired to carve a new path? Can any amount of advice change the core of a being? I have a hard time believing that simply telling myself not to be scared, shy and lonely would change any of those things.
I could also lie. There is nothing in the question that says you have to tell yourself the truth. And I'm not sure that at 17, I would suspect myself. Then again, can you tell when you're lying to yourself? I'm not sure. And what would the lies be, anyway? How deep would that deception go? And how would I respond when my younger self started, inevitably, to realize he'd been lied to? What good is advice if it's not the truth?
It might be best to say nothing of myself. It would probably be best to simply change the path with a few stock tips (not that I had any money to invest). Maybe a Powerball number. What would being rich at 17 do to me?
When you think about it, the younger option is a chance to start over. But there is no guarantee that a new baseline will go well, or better.
So, the alternative: get advice from my older self.
Honestly, I'm not sure I want to know what 57 year old me has to say. I'm pretty sure it wouldn't be good. Then again, if there's a coming apocalypse, or again, a stock tip or lottery pick I should be aware of, why not hear that? Maybe I could save someone else, if not myself, from future tragedy?
What I basically discovered, lying there in bed not reading, looking at an ad that was no doubt trying to sell me insurance, financial advice, or both, I realized that I fear the future more than I want to change the past.
If I told my 17 year old self all I can think to tell him, would it sink in? Would that knowledge, beyond whatever financial advice I gave myself, do me any good?
If were to hear from my older self now, would I be open to it? Am I too cynical to heed the words of even a time traveling future self? Is there anything hidden within the next twenty years that's more valuable than what I know from the last 20? I kind of doubt it. Life is not wine, it loses value with age.
I put down the magazine, turned out the light and slept poorly, restlessly. What will I wish I would have known?
I can't honestly tell you what I would tell myself. Not because I don't know, but because when one is talking to one's self, it's always best if others don't overhear.
Which would you choose?
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